Avoiding injury on the job can be helped by training and training again
If you didn’t know it already, working in trucking can be risky. Truck drivers had more nonfatal injuries than any other industry’s workers as of 2007, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Half of the nonfatal injuries were serious sprains and strains. OSHA attributed this to the fact that many drivers are injured loading and unloading.
Safety experts say preventing injuries on the job requires education, demonstration of how to do things right and continuous follow-up to reinforce proper techniques and habits. It all begins when a driver is hired and can be reinforced weekly, monthly or when an accident occurs.
“The key to avoiding injury is to have a good pre-trip and post-trip routine that you follow religiously,” says Sam Cross, safety manager at Rocha Transport, a Truckload Carriers Association safety award winner in 2008 from Modesto, Calif. “You hustle but don’t hurry. When you get in a hurry and short-cut things, that’s when you get hurt.”
Safety managers at carriers say injuries show up most often when drivers are simply getting in and out of a truck and walking around the tractor and trailer. Complaints of bad ankles, bad knees and bad backs are most common. “Bad knees and ankles are from jumping out of the truck and landing in potholes,” Cross says.
Or drivers slip off a step or completely miss steps climbing in or out of a cab, says Jay Blobner, safety director at Stagecoach Cartage & Distribution in El Paso, Texas, another 2008 TCA safety award winner.
Drivers who get injured entering or exiting a truck often are ignoring the widely taught “three points of contact” maneuver. The concept is to have one hand and two feet or two hands and a foot making contact in three places including steps and a handrail when going into and out of a tractor or trailer, says Bob Hutson, safety director at Stone Belt Freight Lines, a 2008 TCA safety award winner from Shoals, Ind.
“What I think happens, being an ex-driver myself, some drivers will exit going forward instead of backing out of the truck,” Blobner says. “I’ve seen some of the younger guys completely jump out of the truck without getting on the steps, or jumping off the truck catwalk.”
Stagecoach makes the three-points message hard to miss by affixing a sticker near the driver’s door on each truck showing the proper procedure. Blobner says the procedure also is taught in orientation with all drivers new to the company.
James Ransom, director of safety at Clayton, Ala.-based Boyd Bros. Transportation and TCA’s safety professional of the year in 2008, says trucks are outfitted with non-skid steps but diesel, mud, snow and ice can build up while driving. Drivers have to keep the steps clean, especially in winter weather.
Ransom says the most frequent injuries he sees are “slips and falls, mostly working around loads.” The company is primarily a flatbed operation where potential injuries lurk when securing loads in a variety of weather conditions. Some of the injuries may result from poor weather conditions, but most often the blame goes to driver inattention or getting in a hurry, Ransom says.
“In a pre-trip walking around the truck, you could step in a pothole, or the ground might be uneven,” he says. “You might be checking securement of your load and one of the coils might have a sharp edge on it and you’re not wearing your gloves or a long-sleeve shirt and the metal cuts you and you have to get several stitches. You have to wear gloves, protective glasses and a hard hat.”
Ransom also notes that rubber bungees can get fatigued and snap, while straps can fray or get cut and break loose. “If one breaks, it will fly toward you, so we tell drivers to pull them sideways or away from you,” he says. “Also, periodically check chains for weak or broken links — run them through your hands to feel for weak or separated links.”
Walking on a flatbed to tarp a load also presents problems. Gaps between sections of the load may get covered up when tarping. “We’ve had drivers have a misstep and fall off the back end of the trailer while spreading out the tarp,” Ransom says. “Wind can be a factor, too, when spreading out a tarp. You can be 10, 12 feet up off the ground, and wind can blow you off the trailer.”
Back straight, squat and lift
Another common injury is a strained back caused by lifting equipment or part of a load. “We teach them the proper lifting technique, which is back straight, squat and lift with your legs,” Cross says. “We also do work where we pull heavy pallets off roller vans. We show them how to use their legs to push, not their backs.” Ransom adds that proper technique includes shifting your feet to find a better lifting angle rather than twisting while hoisting.
Carrier safety managers say preventing injuries includes classes, demonstrations, videos, newsletters and one-on-one counseling. Blobner says if a driver suffers an injury and it’s not too serious, he will go with the driver to the truck to discuss what happened. “They describe it to us, identify the root cause and point out what the driver should have done differently,” he says. “We will do a follow-up, including a training video, one-on-one training and maybe do a ridealong with one of our senior drivers.”
To reduce the possibility of back injuries, Cross will go over physical conditioning to prevent strains. “We talk about core exercises and strengthening the belly,” he says. “If you’re weak in the belly, that results in back problems.”
New drivers at Boyd Bros. go through an extensive orientation, including safety, lasting four-and-a-half days. The initial part uses PowerPoint and videos to cover topics such as proper footwear and load securement procedures. After that, drivers head to the yard for hands-on training in securement with both dummy and live loads. “There are times when a load comes into the yard and it may not be secured properly,” Ransom says. “It’s a good chance to educate the driver, plus the drivers in orientation, in resecuring it the proper way.”
Stagecoach devotes two days to orientation for new drivers, who must have at least two years’ experience. Blobner estimates 99 percent of orientation is spent on safety issues and training. “We want to make sure they understand what we’re doing here,” he says.
Adds Cross: “The key to our success is to show them and give them the tools — training, knowledge, proper work boots, equipment and gloves — and convince them if they use those tools, they won’t get hurt.”
Ransom says a strong incentive to stay injury-free is pay. “If you get hurt, you not only suffer because you can’t work, but your family suffers because your income is greatly decreased,” he says.
Boyd Bros. Trucking provides its drivers with a safety kit that includes safety glasses, a camera, a pamphlet covering what to do in case of an accident, paper, pencil and a drug-screening collection kit. The company also helps pay for part of a new driver’s hard hat and provides a credit toward the purchase of non-slip, steel-toed shoes, says James Ransom. “We’re also thinking about adding a safety vest,” he says.
One way to avoid injuries on the job is to get ready to work. The Oregon Trucking Association provides this driver checklist, a good model for preparation. “Inspect yourself,” it advises. “The driver is still the most critical part of the safety equation.”
• Are you well rested? Feeling well? Fatigue and/or illness can drastically affect your ability to concentrate on driving safely.
• Do you have proper clothing for inclement weather, including proper work shoes or boots, gloves and other warm clothing?
• How about your attitude? Are you worrying about problems at home, difficulty with the boss, financial worries? These are common to all of us at some time, but we don’t all have the tremendous responsibility to the public that you accept when you get behind the wheel.